The US Forest Service wants to stop new gold mining claims on the Chetco River in southwestern Oregon while Congress considers legislation that would permanently raise the level of protection for wild salmon and steelhead habitat.
GRANTS PASS — The U.S. Forest Service wants to stop new gold mining claims on the Chetco River in southwestern Oregon while Congress considers legislation that would permanently raise the level of protection for wild salmon and steelhead habitat.
The process, formally known as a segregation in aid of legislation, would not stop Seattle developer Dave Rutan from going forward on existing claims on portions of the river in the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest.
But Forest Service geologist Robert Fujimoto said it would force Rutan to prove there is something worth mining to develop claims along sections of the river protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.
If the Bureau of Land Management approves a ban, a process likely to take two or three months, Congress would have two years to consider legislation filed by Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., making it permanent.
The Forest Service action is the result of a continuing effort by conservation groups to protect the Chetco, a stronghold for wild salmon and steelhead in the Northwest, from the potential damages caused by Rutan mining his claims, said Andy Kerr, a consultant to the conservation group Friends of the Kalmiopsis.
"He has a series of claims that adds up to 24 miles in federally designated wild and scenic river," Kerr said from Washington, D.C. "The Chetco is part of the national wild and scenic river system because of its outstanding water quality and fisheries. Sucking up the spawning gravels into a dredge to pull out a little bit of gold may be of benefit to Mr. Rutan, but it is devastating for salmon and water quality."
Rutan did not immediately respond to a telephone call and e-mail seeking comment.
Rutan bought eight claims along the Chetco, three of them inside the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, where the wild river designation on the Chetco already prohibits new mining claims. He also holds five claims along scenic and recreational sections of the river outside the wilderness, where mining is allowed.
The Forest Service is performing an environmental review on his plans for developing the wilderness claims, where he has been developing a resort for hobby miners.
The state of Oregon has also joined efforts to protect the river, developing a new standard for water quality that essentially prohibits the use of suction dredges, a favorite tool of small-scale gold miners, inside the Kalmiopsis and other Congressionally designated wilderness areas.